A good summer food plot can do wonders for a local deer herd when everything comes together. Unfortunately, it does not always work as planned, that is, if there is any planning at all! We all know the value of food plots for deer nutrition, but what about the value of plants that are not particularly popular in deer food plots.
Sunflowers and Sorghum
White-tailed deer will eat both of these crops. This is especially true if you are planting them for commercial harvest. There is something about commercial crops that whitetail deer really love; they are always getting into our wallets. It could be all the fertilizer? Deer do seek out micro-nutrients that are in short supply within their environment, so there could be something to this theory.
I would venture to guess that sunflowers are never planted to food plots for deer. This species gets planted for doves, no doubt, but not for whitetail. That said, many bird hunters have seen there dove hunting plot fall victim to a hungry deer herd. Whitetail love newly-sprouted sunflowers, but they will eat them as the mature as well. How much a deer herd like sunflowers varies by location and by property. It really boils down to the other foods that they have to eat.
Sorghum, on the other hand, is a grass. Yes, whitetail deer eat sorghum, but either when it is very young or once the green seeds and maturing head hit the dough stage. The seeds have a lot of nutrition packed in to them at this point and they are easily digested. Whitetail will also eat mature sorghum seeds. Again, this varies by area and by environmental conditions.
Remember, deer will eat anything if it’s the only thing around. If you plant or are considering the planting food plots as a way to improve deer hunting (hopefully) as part of a deer management program, then know that habitat should come first. Ideally, food plots should not be the only thing on a property to eat. Natural vegetation should comprise the bulk of a deer’s diet. Food plots should be considered supplements for the most part.
In short, the best quality about both sunflower and sorghum in food plots plots for deer is that they provide structure. This may not seem like a good reason to throw them into your plot mix this spring, but let’s consider why you may want to do just that.
Summer Plots Need Structure
Lab lab, cowpeas and soybeans. Am I speaking your spring and summer food plot language yet? These are some great go-to species for warm season whitetail forage. Each of these legumes is highly sought after by whitetail deer. They all have high protein levels and are easily digested. What’s not to like about lab lab, cowpeas and soybeans when it comes to deer, right?
Well, nothing, if your plots grow. Often times, hunters and land managers are discouraged when they plant a summer plot for whitetail and the stuff fails to grow. It tries to grow, but the deer keep in mowed down to the ground. Deer are definitely using the food plot, but it’s not providing much food and looks more like a grave plot… dirt.
A potential remedy in this situation is, you guessed it, structure! Structural plants such as sunflower and sorghum can provide camoflauge for the main crop while also providing something for your high protein legumes to attach to, and grow up with. Plants that provide vertical structure help protect very young legumes but also help with growth as the structural plant and the legume mature.
The function of growing up provides more biomass, more forage for the local deer herd. If all of the legumes are competing for limited sunlight with a limited ability to climb they produce less vegetation. As they climb upon structure, they produce more stem but also more leafy material and that means more forage for your deer herd.
Add Sorghum and/or Sunflower to Your Summer Plot
These species are not recommended as stand-alone species for plots intended to provide supplemental forage primarily for whitetail deer. Stick with legumes for deer food plots during summer months but consider a structure plant as a way to guard your forage plants and increase the amount of forage they can produce.
Ensure that food plots are only part of your overall management strategy. In most cases, plots should only make up a maximum of about 2-5 percent of your total acreage each season. Another key to successful food plotting is to keep the deer numbers in line with what the habitat can support on the property. Too many deer ensures that plots get hammered, but none of the deer get enough food for it to be a true supplement.